BBC: Discussion on Y2K : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

Gia Milinovich meets up with representatives from all sides of the argument to hear the truth behind the bug to beat all bugs:

Gia Milinovich: Joining me for this discussion on the Y2K problem are Karl Schneider, Editor of Computer Weekly Magazine; Professor Anthony Finkelstein, Professor of software systems engineering at University College London; Robin Guenier, Executive Director of Task Force 2000 (a non-profit pressure group) and finally Andy Nurse, Programme Manager of Action 2000.

GM:Everybodys heard of the millennium bug, but nobody quite knows what its all about. Can you explain what it is, and how it came about?

Karl Schneider: [usual explanation]

GM: What do you think about the stories of people stockpiling food and water. You think thats all a load of rubbish dont you?

Professor Finkelstein: I absolutely do. I think its ludicrous. I have to say that, probably, reaction to the more extreme manifestations of Y2K panic would be widely shared by others on the panel, and I personally believe that worry is not an appropriate reaction for the general public at all. I believe there will be grumbling low level problems of not being able to get your kumquats at Sainsburys on time. I dont think thats a matter for general concern.

GM: Andy, youre from Action 2000, the government's task force. What are your responsibilities?

Andy Nurse: Essentially Action 2000 was set up to help companies address the risk from the millennium bug. Our main focus has been on the smaller companies, because in general we felt the larger companies are getting on with their programmes, but there have been many smaller companies that havent understood the problem. From 10 employees up through to 250 is where our principal concern now lies, even though the bug is likely to affect companies of all sizes.

GM: Are we going to be without power come the New Year?

AN: One of the particular things that Action 2000 has been looking at, is the infrastructure. This is a risk, because of the interdependence of electricity on gas, on water, on transportation. So what we found a little while ago was that an individual electricity company would say, "Were OK, but were not sure about our gas supplies or our water supplies." So we had to treat the whole of the infrastructure in one go. Theres still work going on, to make sure that we get there.

GM: I was just looking at your figures. What are you more concerned about? That 9% of hospitals and health care are not compliant at all, nor will they be, or that 40% of oils and fuels, that supply heating and transport fuels, arent necessarily Y2K compliant now?

AN: Whether a hospital is more important than oil supplies is not a question I can answer. It really means that we have to check all of these areas, and make sure that the failures arent going to happen.

GM: Robin, you dont think Action 2000 is doing enough, do you?

[Pollies and trolls mistakenly term Guenier the "British Gary North"]

Robin Guenier: I certainly dont. This is a large company problem. Its a problem of the infrastructure, of the way we manage our economies. Its an international problem of very serious consequence. I dont know of a single major organisation anywhere in the world that claims to have finished. Thats an extraordinary state of affairs. This situation isn't being taken seriously enough by the government and Action 2000. I think weve trivialised it by calling it the Millennium Bug, which is a really silly name, and we are now sitting here with just a few weeks left, things are not nearly as advanced as they should be. The problem should have been sorted out by September 1998. We had credit card problems two years ago. As we get towards the end of this year, those problems are going to build up. And I think the consequences of the problems - thats really what I worry about - are likely to peak, and affect ordinary people in about March or April next year. I dont think Id worry about it at midnight. The midnight thing is a misunderstanding.

GM: Are we going to have a depression or a recession? Is the whole world going to go into economic turmoil?

RG: Its impossible to say. Im certainly not predicting a depression, but I have to say to you, its not impossible.

PF: 'It isnt impossible' and 'stranger things have happened' appear almost to be the motto of the Y2K industry. I dont think thats an appropriate way to frame a debate about whats essentially a risk issue.

AN: Theres real evidence of failures in embedded systems, of failures in software, in smaller computers. Ive talked to larger companies, and one of the questions I ask is, 'if you hadnt done a Year 2000 programme would there have been a problem ?' And they say, 'Yes, we couldnt have paid our payroll, we couldnt have sent out invoices.' So its a very, very real problem. I dont think we can afford to take the risk of saying, 'Well it will probably be OK.'

PF: It depends what you regard as serious. Im not suggesting for a minute that the problems were facing arent serious, I just think were facing long run chronic problems, amenable to some sort of solution by way of engineering good practice, rather than a sexy big bang problem amenable to a quick or perhaps not so quick fix.

RG: Let me give an example of why I think youre wrong. The perception, for example of the insurance industry, is that this is a massive risk which they dont want to be responsible for paying for. Now, business people rely on insurance to run their businesses. In some cases we have to have insurance if were allowed to do things by law. If theres a possibility, and there is, that airlines may not be operated, business people have to decide what were going to do instead. And these are massive problems. Youve never come across a problem of this sort, relating to software maintenance before.

KS: I think so far, weve mainly been talking about this at quite a low level, as a technical problem to do with computers, but actually the way it manifests itself for most companies are at a much broader level. Its about taking sensible precautions, and thinking about sensible business plans to put in place, if anything from the post not arriving to the nuts and bolts you need to put your systems together, to the letter headed paper not arriving. Its to think about what youre going to do if this gets disrupted in some way. And if you do that effectively we can be very robust and survive all sorts of disruptions.

GM: So finally, I just want to ask you all, what are you going to be doing New Years Eve?

AN: Ill be partying

RG: Ill probably be on ITN talking about the issue

PF: Dealing with time irritable children

KS: Well, I hope to be at a party, but I certainly wont be in an aeroplane or in anything else thats fundamentally dependant on IT!

Lots of opinions, but nobody really knows for sure whats going to happen. Well find out when the clock strikes midnight on New Years Eve. If you want to prepare yourself, check out:

[List of links at site]

-- Old Git (, August 04, 1999


Thanks Old Git. I'll reserve comment about the professor : )



-- Michael Taylor (, August 04, 1999.

Just 90 workdays left 'till da ROLL!! Interesting that the Brits expect it to come home to roost in March and April. They have a well developed sense for what they call "knock on effects" i.e. changes in demand reflecting consumer sentiment.

Won't be long now!!

-- K. Stevens (kstevens@It's ALL going away in, August 04, 1999.

*** URGENT RFC ***

I have approached by the BBC as I am one of these 'mad stockpilers' to be interviewd (i.e my bug out plans are well advanced). I don't want to be pigeon-holed as a lunatic. I DO want to get my case across - i.e preparing for the worst and hoping for the best is a wise strategy (although I still refuse to lower my 8/10 rating).

1. Do I refuse the interview ? 2. Do I take the opportunity and risk Professor Finkelstein wrath ? 3. Other ?

I have to phomne them back. Any ideas ? (I have 24 yrs experience, within the elctronics and IT sectors).


-- Rob Somerville (, August 04, 1999.

My god, man, be careful...rile up the Establishment and they'll likely pull your FA (Firearms Authorisation).

What do you do then for security???

-- K. Stevens (kstevens@It's ALL going away in, August 04, 1999.

Rob -

If you do participate, I frankly do not think it prudent for you to allow yourself to be identified. Do a bit of risk analysis. IMHO, you gain very little and risk much. You are simply a citizen and not an "opinion leader" (despite your credentials), so it is all too easy for listeners to simply marginalize your comments and move on with your lives. You also become identified as a "preparer", which is not a public persona that one wishes to have come Rollover.

I know you want to help and I'm quite sure that you'd present a good case, but it really seems most unlikely that someone would hear you on the Beeb and have some sort of epiphany about Y2K. Too many "Professors" out there, putting flak in the air.

-- Mac (sneak@lurk.hid), August 04, 1999.

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